Interview with Sima Familant
Art Advisor Sima Shares Her Insights On The Art World
By Nayoung Cho
Sima Familant is the owner of Sima Familant Private Curator / Art Advisor based in New York City. Since receiving her MA in Contemporary Art from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, she has been integrally involved in building important collections of contemporary art, first at Baumgartner Gallery in Washington DC, and then for four years as Director of Greene Naftali Gallery in New York. She later served as Associate Director at the Greenberg van Doren Gallery, where she developed relationships with many collectors, helping them establish a curatorial vision and overseeing all aspects of their collections. In addition to her work as a curator and art advisor, she is on the board of Steep Rock Arts Association Co., and LAX Art, a non-profit space based in Los Angeles.
Nayoung Cho: To start off the interview, could you please talk about your philosophy as a curator and as an art advisor? How do you relate or separate the two professional roles?
Sima Familant: I call myself a private curator because my philosophy about how I work with my clients is that I help them curate their collection, as opposed to helping them just buy art. It is not about finding a pretty painting that will fit over your couch, and I really try to make a distinction that that’s not what I do. As an art advisor it is my job to help clients find and acquire certain works but it really is about helping private individuals curate their collection.
NC: But you also curate exhibitions for galleries and other institutions, don’t you think that conflicts with your role as an art advisor?
SF: I never thought of it that way, actually. I do special projects because being in the art world you are really free to choose whatever hat you decide you want to wear. There are really no rules or limitations. Basically a lot of what I do is all about the artists, whether it’s placing them in private collections, putting their work in gallery exhibitions, or helping them find residency programs through my involvement with non-profit organizations like Steep Rock. In the end, it’s about supporting the artists in many different ways as possible.
NC: It seems you are often inspired by literature for themes of your exhibition. How do you get inspired when curating an exhibition?
SF: I try to draw inspiration from different venues outside of art, like literature, music and popular culture; a zeitgeist of ideas, and think about how it relates to what the artists are doing today. Sometimes it’s an amazing artwork that inspires me, and start from there. For example, for my last show at Sikkema Jenkins, it was definitely the poem (Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry) that inspired me but I was also really excited to work with Kelly Barrie, William Cordova, and some of the younger artists that I wasn’t familiar with at the time. Also, Maria Nazor, who is an amazing painter and an artist who hasn’t really shown since the 80s. It was really special for me to have the opportunity to bring her work back out there.
NC: You obviously work with a wide range of artists. What are your views as a curator on helping artists shape their career?
SF: There are artists working in New York that I’ve known for a long time, who haven’t been showing their work in years and now are showing again. But they never stopped making work. It’s just that for whatever reason, something wasn’t going their way that stopped them from opportunities to exhibit their work. The economy, the aesthetics, or whatever personal reasons, I realize if they stick to it, it all sort of comes back around. Of course, a lot of people get really involved with the social aspect of the art world and that is also a part of it. But I think as an artist you really need to be aware of your art coming first and whatever you need to do to keep the integrity behind the work.
NC: You studied in London during the explosion of the YBA generation, which was momentous era for contemporary art. How has theat experience affected you personally and professionally on your views on the contemporary art?
SF: I think if I hadn’t been in London at that time I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. There was so much energy happening, you can see it and feel it. For me, I feel like I grew upon the YBAs and it was really through them that I started understanding contemporary art. That was really in the backdrop of what I was seeing everyday in the galleries. Artists like Damien Hirst, he is so controversial now and many people don’t like him but I’m still a huge fan and it’s because I saw how it all happened. I remember the first time seeing his butterfly paintings in a group exhibition as a student. Experiences like that, it really leaves a lasting impression. You really need to be in the moment to truly understand it. Being in that environment, I really took advantage in seeing and experiencing everything I could.
NC: Going back to your work as an art advisor, you mentioned that collecting could be a very complicated and personal journey. Could you elaborate on the process of building a collection, and your role in helping the collectors realize their artistic vision?
SF: This is where the title private curator comes in very specifically. As I mentioned earlier, we are not just shopping for one or two pieces that clients would like. I really try to spend a lot of time with my clients discussing their vision for the collection. It’s true that a lot of it is the money conversation, understanding the client’s risk factors. Some people want to take risks with young and emerging artists, while some are only interested in collecting established artists. Then there is obviously the client’s individual taste and aesthetics. It’s also important to understand the process in a long term perspective, and having the patience to make more selective choices. Overall it can be a very intense and personal conversation.
NC: What advice do you have for young collectors who are starting out on their own?
SF: Start by being obsessed with art. Seeing every show possible and reading what’s out there. From there you can start getting a clear picture of who the players are, who the taste makers are, and how things happen. Also, dealers are an amazing source of information. They are there to help and inform you about their artists and their program, Definitely ask questions, engage in conversations and really there is so much you can do on your own to educate yourself, especially in a city like New York.